School of GeoSciences

School of GeoSciences

Urban Redevelopment

The Case of HafenCity in Hamburg

['Sandtorhafen'  Bernd Sterzl / PIXELIO]


      Waterfront redevelopment is a common strategy of contemporary cities seeking to reinfuse derelict harbours with life. Such sites are re-zoned into a mixed-use amalgam of dwelling, office space and leisure facilities, sub-divided to saleable development parcels, and developed through public-private partnerships. My study will look specifically at residential everyday life in HafenCity (‘HarbourCity’), a 1.5 km2, harbour renewal scheme in Hamburg. The ambitious aspiration of the HafenCity development board is nothing less than to “create a model for the development of the European city in the 21st century”. Through the right mix of uses, residents, architectures and programming, HafenCity aspires to attain unprecedented ‘vitality’ and ‘urbanity’.The under-construction building site will be examined under the aspect of appropriation by pioneer residents. To what extent is 'neighbourhood sociality' forged among the newcomers and a distinct sense of place stabilised, where no former population has existed before?

Research aims

[Hamburg harbour]

      As an infrastructure in-the-making, HafenCity is a promising vantage point for observation.
It is a neighbourhood that is gradually being assembled from scratch - materially through the
erection of infrastructure, socially through its occupation by pioneer residents. My study will
examine the ways in which residents and visitors to HafenCity come to stabilize their relationships
with ‘the local’ - from individual and incidental attempts to build familiarity, construct sociality, and
generate routines, through to more clearly orchestrated attempts to proactively shape the
neighborhood. Numerous forms of residential engagement can already be observed to exist,
such as an artists’ workshop. How far these qualify as spontaneous and self-motivated,
or rather facilitated through coordination by the developing board, is a major issue of inquiry.
The study will also attend to the relationship between these unplanned, emergent initiatives
and those that are scripted through official programming of use directed at creating a
certain model of urbanity (cafes and restaurants on the commercial level, or municipal initiatives
such as museums and open air events). For example, many claims are made about the capacity
of the architecture of HafenCity to facilitate neighbourliness, but what work is done - by the
infrastructure, by residents, by the developing board - to make such claims materialize?
What mediates this emergent sociality? It is this alleged linkage of bottom-up growth and
top down facilitation of neighbourhood cohesion, that deserves investigation.


      The HafenCity developing board claims to have avoided the planning failures of the past - such as the bleak container architecture of modernism, as to ensure widespread acceptance of the new district and subsequent vitality unfolding within it. Vitality, however, is something that has to be actively achieved – why it is of interest to me to inspect how the local architecture is accepted, rejected or even refunctionalized by users of HafenCity - residents, office workers, shop vendors, visitors. Of interest will be the imprints that residents give their district as those with the strongest time-spatial tie to the locale. At the broadest level this study will therefore sit at the nexus between science and technology studies and urban ethnography. It will hopefully provide a useful reference for local community groups, planners and architects by displaying conveniences and ambiguities of a
prearranged settlement.